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EU countries risk sanctions over air traffic control

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By Ethan Bilby

BRUSSELS, Oct 11 (Reuters) - The creation of a unifiedEuropean airspace is seriously off track, potentially requiringthe European Union to use sanctions to force compliance frommember states, European Commissioner for Transport Siim Kallassaid in Cyprus on Thursday.

Although the European Union dissolved customs borders andpassport controls for much of the continent years ago, controlof the skies overhead remains fragmented between nations.

"We have fallen seriously behind in our original ambitions.After more than 10 years, the core problems remain the same,"Kallas told a conference in Limassol.

"At this stage, it looks like infringements may well benecessary," Kallas said.

The Single European Sky II package is an EU plan to scaledown from 27 national airspaces to nine regional blocks byDecember, with the ultimate aim of one single air controlsystem.

But countries have been slow to dismantle domestic airtraffic monopolies in order to form the regional blocks, and theEU may launch investigations into sanctioning countries whowon't make good on the agreement.

The Commission can force member states to follow EU lawthrough a procedure known as infringement, which begins with aformal demand and can escalate into EU court action and fines.

According to the EU's executive, the European Commission,the patchwork control of Europe's airspace leads to more than 5billion euros ($6.5 billion) in extra costs per year that getspassed on to passengers.

Air traffic control costs make up 6-12 percent of the costof an airline ticket.

Kallas said the price paid in the EU for using antiquated1950's-era systems makes the bloc uncompetitive.

The EU was "a long way off the price in the UnitedStates...which already controls the same airspace area with moretraffic at half the cost," he said.

Full implementation of the EU single sky plan would triplethe amount of capacity for flights and improve safety tenfold,the Commission said.

Due to the national control of airspaces, flights also haveto take longer and more inefficient routes, adding an extra 42kilometres to each flight in Europe.

This in turn results in wasted fuel and increased emissions.($1 = 0.7754 euros)

(Editing by Hugh Lawson)

((ethan.bilby@thomsonreuters.com)(+32 2287 6812)(ReutersMessaging: ethan.bilby.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: EU TRANSPORT/